I’m going to devote this post to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s domestic violence crisis.
Yesterday NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell emerged from wherever he was hiding for the past ten days and gave a press conference in which he once again tried to paper over his awful handling of domestic violence charges against Ray Rice and a number of other NFL players.
He really shouldn’t have bothered. The “press conference,” in which Goodell announced that he’s setting up a series of committees to formulate a new league policy on domestic violence in time for the Super Bowl, and then dodged pointed questions from the media, was bad enough; but shortly thereafter, ESPN Outside the Lines published a story that showed both Goodell and Baltimore Ravens ownership to be liars. The truth is, the Ravens knew about the video footage from inside the elevator not long after Rice hit Janay Palmer with a closed fist and caused her to lose consciousness.
Rice case: purposeful misdirection by team, scant investigation by NFL, by Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg.
Just hours after running back Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiancée with a left hook at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Baltimore Ravens’ director of security, Darren Sanders, reached an Atlantic City police officer by phone. While watching surveillance video — shot from inside the elevator where Rice’s punch knocked his fiancée unconscious — the officer, who told Sanders he just happened to be a Ravens fan, described in detail to Sanders what he was seeing.
Sanders quickly relayed the damning video’s play-by-play to team executives in Baltimore, unknowingly starting a seven-month odyssey that has mushroomed into the biggest crisis confronting a commissioner in the NFL’s 94-year history.
“Outside the Lines” interviewed more than 20 sources over the past 11 days — team officials, current and former league officials, NFL Players Association representatives and associates, advisers and friends of Rice — and found a pattern of misinformation and misdirection employed by the Ravens and the NFL since that February night.
After the Feb. 15 incident in the casino elevator, Ravens executives — in particular owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome — began extensive public and private campaigns pushing for leniency for Rice on several fronts: from the judicial system in Atlantic County, where Rice faced assault charges, to commissioner Goodell, who ultimately would decide the number of games Rice would be suspended from this fall, to within their own building, where some were arguing immediately after the incident that Rice should be released.
The Ravens also consulted frequently with Rice’s Philadelphia defense attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein, who in early April had obtained a copy of the inside-elevator video and told Cass: “It’s f—ing horrible.” Cass did not request a copy of the video from Diamondstein but instead began urging Rice’s legal team to get Rice accepted into a pretrial intervention program after being told some of the program’s benefits. Among them: It would keep the inside-elevator video from becoming public.
For its part, the NFL — which in other player discipline cases has been able to obtain information that’s been sealed by court order — took an uncharacteristically passive approach when it came to gathering evidence, opening itself up to widespread criticism, allegations of inconsistent approaches to player discipline and questions about whether Goodell gave Rice — the corporate face of the Baltimore franchise — a light punishment as a favor to his good friend Bisciotti. Four sources said Ravens executives, including Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome, urged Goodell and other league executives to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension, and that’s what Goodell did on July 24.
It’s a long article that shows Ravens coach John Harbaugh in a surprisingly positive light–he reportedly wanted to cut Rice and two other players who had been arrested in the off-season, but owner Steven Bisciotti overruled him. It’s possible that this means the information in the piece came from sources friendly to Harbaugh, and the team claims there are a number of problems with the article. But at this point, who is going to believe either the team or Roger Goodell over ESPN’s sources–especially when they are postponing stating any specifics until next week? Do they need a few days to dream up a response?
The ESPN article also portrays Ray Rice as extremely remorseful about having hit Janay, and suggests that Steve Biscotti tried to bribe Rice to stay silent about what actually happened. From Deadspin:
Once the video became public, Bisciotti claimed that the team had not seen the tape until it was released by TMZ, suggesting that the account Rice had given him was somehow at odds with the elevator footage. This is also Goodell’s claim, though OTL has four sources saying that Rice told the truth in his meeting with the commissioner. The Ravens released Rice on Sept. 8 and then, according to ESPN, immediately offered an olive branch.
Minutes later, Rice’s phone buzzed. He could scarcely believe what he was looking at— back-to-back text messages from Bisciotti. Rice read them aloud so everyone in the room could hear them:
Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.
When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.
A few days later, after thinking about it more, Rice told friends he believed Bisciotti was suggesting that, as long as he kept quiet and stuck to the story that he had misled team officials and Goodell about what had happened in the elevator, the Ravens would take care of him down the road. He felt incredibly insulted.
For all the nonsense, though, something seismic may be happening in the fallout here … primed by the inadvertent contribution of the NFL, and not only because Goodell promised harsher punishment for “totally unacceptable” behavior — domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, misuse of firearms, and illegal use of alcohol and drugs.
Because its initial response to Rice was so warped — a paltry two-game suspension — the rumbling started with the release of the second Rice video. And it began to accelerate in the void of NFL leadership between then and now, especially as Adrian Peterson faces child-abuse charges for “whooping” his 4-year-old son with a “switch” and domestic-abuse allegations against others came to light.
If nature abhors a vacuum, so do human beings … who have way more ways to fill it up in the era of social media.
Between the media attention and outrage across the nation, including from heavyweight sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch and Procter & Gamble (which on Friday pulled out of a planned Breast Cancer Awareness event for October), the topic had been bubbling at a critical mass by the time Goodell finally spoke.
That dynamic made for a pivotal moment.
“I think this truly has been a tipping point in how the nation looks at domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Joan Schultz, executive director of the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence. “We’re starting to take it out of (being) the victim’s fault.
“And men are starting to stand up and say, ‘No,’ and that’s what I’ve always thought it was going to take: ‘No, this is not right. … We’re silent no more.’
A couple more reactions . . .
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has asked his staff for details about the U.S. military’s relationships with the National Football League in the wake of the scandal over how the league is handling domestic-abuse allegations against players, CNN reported Friday.
The Pentagon is increasingly sensitive to any suggestion it is supporting a major sports organization that is perceived to tolerate domestic violence….
The military has a zero-¬tolerance policy in the ranks for domestic abuse, but it also has a decades-long, high-profile relationship with the NFL. Any Pentagon action to cut back support for the NFL would be the most direct involvement by the Obama administration yet in the scandal.
What involvement does the military have with the NFL?
The Army alone spends $10 million a year on advertising during NFL games. Games are also broadcast by the Armed Forces Network to troops deployed overseas.
Military support for the NFL games includes providing ceremonial units at games for colors ceremonies; military personnel singing the national anthem, and other units providing drill teams or flyovers. Military personnel, including wounded warriors, often appear at NFL events honoring those who serve, CNN noted.
The Army and the NFL also have a agreement to share information and resources to better understand traumatic brain injury, which is a major medical issue for wounded troops and football players. They are working together on awareness of TBI as well as research into treatment. The military has been sharing some of the lessons learned on TBI from the last 13 years of war.
Interesting. Along with Proctor & Gamble pulling out of the NFL’s breast cancer campaign, this could have a real influence.
So the man who was once more than happy to pose on the cover of Time magazine as “The Enforcer” now talks about initiatives and the women he has hired and the committees he now needs to deal with domestic violence and all the rest of it in the National Football League. He says that a conduct committee will be in place by the Super Bowl, and acted as if we should give him the game ball for that.
“Our standards . . . must be clear, consistent and current,” Goodell said at one point, and you wondered why in the hell they already weren’t in the most powerful and profitable league in this country, why it took some grainy elevator video to slap Goodell and his owners upside their own thick heads.
You watched Goodell on Friday, watched him be as contrite as all the players he’s taken to the woodshed without impunity over his years as the NFL commissioner, and wondered why Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, a rookie commissioner, didn’t need to form committees when he kicked Donald Sterling, one of his owners, right out of his sport.
When Major League Baseball’s Bud Selig and Rob Manfred wanted to suspend a dozen guys last year, and drop a richly deserved hammer on a drug cheat like Alex Rodriguez, they didn’t talk about a conduct committee or wait around for law enforcement to throw the first punch against Anthony Bosch, drug pusher to the stars. They went right after Bosch with a lawsuit for interference and you know what happened in that moment? They became real enforcers, not people simply posing that way.
According to Lupica, Goodell is now “the weakest commissioner in professional sports.”
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and comments on any topic in the comment thread, and have a fabulous weekend!